Orlando FreeFall owner seeks hearing, argues against state findings in teen’s death

Florida Department of Agriculture concluded investigation last month

ORLANDO, Fla. – The owner and operator of the Orlando FreeFall attraction where a teen fell to his death earlier this year is arguing against the state’s findings in its investigation into the boy’s death and requesting a formal hearing, according to a new filing.

The Orlando Slingshot Group filed its request on Wednesday after the Florida Department of Agriculture announced it concluded its investigation and would seek a $250,000 administrative fine against the ride operator.

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Tyre Sampson, 14, was visiting Orlando from Missouri when he slipped from his seat on the 400-foot-tall attraction and fell to his death while on spring break. The Orlando FreeFall attraction at ICON Park has been closed since the boy’s death.

An independent forensic engineering firm hired in the department’s investigation revealed the operator made “manual adjustments to the ride resulting in it being unsafe” and allowed the harness restraint opening to be “almost double” of the normal opening range, Fried said earlier this year.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said during an announcement of the investigation’s findings that the manipulation of the sensors allowed to the ride to begin and “led directly to his fall.” The investigation also showed the attendants lacked proper training for the attraction, she said.

“The department’s investigation revealed there was minimal training conducted on the ride. A training manual did not exist,” she said during a November news conference. “Neither of the attendants nor the operator had read or seen the manufacturer manual, nor had an operating document been provided to the attendants or operators (who) were on duty.”

Now, the Orlando FreeFall owner and operator is asking for a formal administrative hearing to determine it has “not violated the statutes, rules and regulations governing amusement rides as alleged in the Administrative Complaint.”

Some of the disputed issues in the filing include “whether the adjustment of the seat restraints was in violation of any manufacturer’s recommendations, requirements, and/or guidelines.”

Attorneys for the Orlando Slingshot Group released the following statement:

The state’s administrative complaint, submitted on Nov. 23, stated ride attendants “were specifically instructed to seat ‘larger guests’ in seats 1 and 2,” indicating awareness they knew some seats were adjusted aftermarket to accommodate larger guests.

News 6 also learned training certifications for two employees working the night of the teen’s death were signed and dated that same night and not in February, as the document suggests.

Since the boy’s death, the state has been planning to propose legislation to “help prevent the kind of tragedy that happened to Tyre from never happening again.”

The Slingshot Group announced the ride would be taken down. However, the timeline for the ride to be taken down was put on hold until the department finished its investigation.

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About the Author:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined ClickOrlando.com in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.